Ceding the momentum
If you were at the Chinnaswamy Stadium over the weekend and, having soaked in two hundreds, a double-century and a five-wicket haul, told a friend not to miss the third day, you can expect an irate phone call. The third day of the Bangalore Test couldn't have offered a starker contrast to the preceding two: the run-rate was relatively slow, wickets did not fall regularly and there were no spectacular individual performances to leave lasting memories. Though the momentum shifted from one side to the other, it was almost by default - more conceded than captured - with neither side doing much to push for a result.
Seen in isolation, without taking into context the situation of the match and series, Pakistan were better off on the day. They scored 283 runs and lost only four wickets but the pace at which they batted - 3.14 runs per over - did little to enhance their slim chances of securing the win that would draw the series. It was always going to be difficult once India scored 626 in the first innings and Pakistan had to produce an exceptional batting display, combining steadiness and aggression - and they had only to look back to what Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh did on Saturday. Ultimately, they had the steadiness - all their batsmen got starts - but not the aggression and, though Shoaib Malik later said they wanted to first avoid the follow-on and then accelerate, they may have left themselves with too little time left to dismiss a strong Indian batting line-up and then chase a target.
India were already in a position of advantage in this Test thanks to their excellent batting over the first two days but they weren't able to drive it home. Their bowlers, though economical, didn't look dangerous enough to take wickets in a bunch and two of the four wickets - those of Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf - came through poor shots rather than probing bowling. The ball didn't swing for Irfan Pathan; Ishant Sharma struggled with his run-up, and therefore his rhythm, early on but improved as the day progressed; and Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh failed to get any fizz out of the surface. They got a couple of rough decisions but largely struggled on a pitch that kept low at times without offering significant assistance. Kumble had two slips and a gully for the fast bowlers and men round the bat for the spinners for nearly the entire day but rarely did they come into play.
Perhaps it was the pressure of responding to a huge total while needing to win and the worry of losing quick wickets, but the Pakistan batsmen, though they proved hard to dislodge, did not dominate the way the situation demanded them to. Butt, who made an excellent fifty last evening, stagnated this morning; he middled the ball consistently and his defence was solid but he failed to find the gaps and hence the run-flow began to ebb.
Younis Khan, once again Pakistan's most assured batsman, had seen out a tense passage of play last evening but this morning he batted with a different purpose, driving Sharma firmly down the ground and cutting him between slip and gully early in the contest. It was a typical Younis innings, full of improvised reverse sweeps and upbeat body language, but the situation needed something more spectacular than a solid 72-run stand with Mohammad Yousuf.
|Twice India had Pakistan on the spot, when Younis and Yousuf were dismissed in quick succession followed by Faisal Iqbal, 25 overs later; twice they let them off|
Those shortcomings were due to their inability to meet the demands of a tremendously challenging situation rather than exceptional bowling. Twice India had Pakistan on the spot, when Younis and Yousuf were dismissed in quick succession followed by Faisal Iqbal, 25 overs later; twice they let them off. At those two junctures, the opportunity presented itself for India to decisively seize the game but, despite the buffer of a huge total and fielders surrounding the bat, none of the bowlers beat the bat or induced false shots or, indeed, created any pressure on the batsmen.
In any case, the pressure would have dissipated given Dinesh Karthik's poor wicketkeeping. Perhaps it was because he was keeping after a while, and the low bounce contributed significantly, but Karthik's 31 byes took India to the threshold of breaking the record for most runs in an innings. Apart from the duties expected from a wicketkeeper, he plays a crucial part in keeping the team upbeat through his body language; by the end of the day, though Karthik's downcast mood was reflected in the low intensity levels in the field.
The game is still in the balance; India know that one wicket will expose Pakistan's tail and increase the possibility of another huge first-innings lead. That tail, however, has been difficult to dislodge on a few occasions in this series and Pakistan will be confident of scoring the necessary 57 runs to avoid the follow-on. Assuming they do, though, what then?
George Binoy is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo